Am I really a baby whisperer?
This is a question I have been asked on more than one occasion!! Many of my clients refer to me as 'The Baby Whisperer' and although I'd love to claim that I have magic hands all I have really had is a lot of practice with newborns. Many of the little tips and tricks that I am now able to pass on to my clients during a session are things that I wish I had known when my two were born. So, rather than keep all this information to myself I have decided to share it all with you here.
From speaking to many new parents over the years I know that one of their biggest concerns is that their baby will scream through the whole session. I can, in all honesty, say that having photographed over 140 babies this has never happened. Yes, some babies are more vocal than others but that's just because they have more they want to tell us! When a baby is crying I will work through my little mental checklist. Are they hungry, do they need a new nappy, a burp perhaps, need to poop or maybe just over tired? As any new parent that has ever tried to leave the house will know, this little checklist is often cycled through multiple times before baby is happy.
If baby is content and awake then I always take the opportunity to photograph them awake (and hopefully tire them out a little!). However, to achieve some of the cutest newborn photos they really need to be asleep, and not just asleep but in a deep sleep and the key to a good deep sleep is a nice full belly.
A deep sleep always follows a big feed... but not before a good burp!! Newborns will often seem 'milk drunk' after a big feed so it is tempting not to risk disturbing them with a burp. A trapped burp can lead to a whole lot of discomfort and a wriggly baby that may wake themselves up before they even get into a true deep sleep. There are many different ways to burp a baby but my favourite method is to sit them on your knee and lean them forward onto the palm of your hand, using your thumb and forefinger to support their chin, keeping your fingers away from their throat. Then gently rub and pat their back. If after a big burp they are not asleep then I will always suggest trying to feed them a little more as a good burp can make a bit more space for milk.
If they are awake at this stage then I follow the 5 S's guide. Swaddle, Shush, Swing, Suck, Side or Stomach. Being swaddled is like being hugged. It feels safe and babies love it. If done correctly it also looks really cute in photos! The methods that I use to swaddle for photos are different to how you should swaddle at home.
All babies love noise. The womb is a really noisy place and the sound of shushing mimics the rushing noises heard within the womb. There are many white noise apps available for your phone but during newborn sessions I use a Baby Shusher and it works a treat. Babies also love movement. I always remember noticing how still my bump was when out and about and the minute I would sit down then they would be wriggling about all over the place. So swinging, bouncing and bottom patting are all things I will try when soothing a baby to sleep.
The controversial 'S'
The next 's' is sometimes a little controversial due to concerns about 'nipple confusion', but there is no denying that babies love to suck. And some babies more than others. I have to admit that I really didn't like dummies and thought they were a sign of lazy parenting but this was based on no personal experience. That all changed when I had Ollie, my second son, and all he wanted to do was suck. I knew he was getting plenty of food as he was piling on the pounds but he was only truly content when he was sucking. Sometimes I could see he was in pain as he was crunching his little legs up to his tummy, but sucking seemed to help. Being a bit of a science geek and having had one baby that didn't have this constant desire to suck I decided to do a little research before succumbing to the dummy.
It turns out that the act of sucking has two important effects. When you suck (or chew) you produce saliva and saliva contains enzymes that aid digestion (yay!). The second is that sucking or chewing and swallowing is the first stage in the process of digestive peristalsis. Peristalsis is the process by which our esophagus and intestines contract and relax to help food and waste pass through our bodies. So when my little boy curled up with obvious tummy pain I now understood the reason why sucking on a dummy helped him so much. Having said all this, I didn't give him a dummy until he was about 5 weeks old and I still fully respect the decision of any parent not to give their newborn a dummy.
The last S is 'side or stomach' and although the safest position for a baby to sleep in is on their back, posing a baby on their side or on their stomach is perfectly safe when under close supervision and is usually very comfortable for them.
I actually like to add another 'S'...Stroking. Babies will often fight sleep. You can tell they are tired and their blinking becomes slower but they refuse to keep those eyes shut. Gentle, rhythmic stroking across their forehead or down the bridge of their nose can be enough to encourage those little peepers to stay shut!
Hopefully after a bit of perseverance (and some serious will power) your baby will be fast asleep, but we are still not quite there...in that magic deep sleep.
I love nothing more than a milk drunk baby but it's not what I call real sleep. The first 20-30 minutes is relatively light sleep and they can easily wake during this stage. After this first stage they go through a usually quite noticeable transition phase. This is accompanied by shallow rapid breathing, a good wriggle and lots of funny faces. I am always on high alert when I notice a baby is in this phase as it is not only when I might capture a little smile but it is also when they may startle themselves awake. This is one reason that swaddling can really help. If they are not swaddled at this point I will often hold their arms and legs firmly against their bodies and give them a little wobble to help prevent this startle reaction.
It really does feel like a battle of wills sometimes but if I can keep a baby asleep through this transition phase then the deep sleep follows and this is where the magic happens!! Parents are often amazed by what is possible when posing a baby once they are in a deep sleep but it is worth the wait. Sometimes babies will go through another wriggly, smiley phase and back into a deep sleep before needing another feed.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this and find some of my tips useful but I feel I should point out that I am not a medical professional and that all my advise here is based on personal experience as a mother and as a newborn photographer. I am a member of Banpas (Baby and Newborn Photography Association) who promote newborn safety at all times and I have undertaken training in how to safely pose newborn babies. If you have any concerns about your baby please seek the help of your midwife or doctor.
If you would like more information on the Newborn Package please click here.
If you would like to contact Kate to make a booking please fill in the form here.
A Newborn Photoshoot with Kate Kirkby
...what to expect.
So you are having a baby!! Exciting times... As soon as your little one arrives every second of your day will be filled with caring for your little one. That includes the hours when you are just sitting and watching them sleep, unable to take your eyes off the precious little being you have created. Before you know it they will be 3 weeks old and you will have already noticed so many changes. For many new parents this is the time when they think about booking in for a photo shoot. Unfortunately this can often be too late as sessions ideally take place between 5 and 18 days old. I will always do my best to accommodate late bookings but this is not always possible. Never again will they be so curled up, like they were when they were inside you, or their tiny feet all wrinkled and new.
This is why I always try to encourage people to get in touch whilst they are still pregnant. Any time after your 20 week scan is great. When you make a booking I usually suggest a provisional date, roughly a week after your due date. This is obviously flexible as we never know exactly when your little one will arrive. I limit the number of bookings I take per month to ensure that we will always be able to find a suitable date for your session.
So your baby has arrived and we have agreed on a date for your session. I will send you a preparation guide so make sure you read it well and follow my guidelines as much as possible. Newborn babies are unpredictable creatures so despite your best laid plans, there is every chance that they have all gone out the window! Fear not...
My newborn photo sessions are always baby-led and there is plenty of time for feeding, changing and soothing. They normally take about three hours, sometimes more, sometimes less, but I recommend not having anything else planned for the same day! When you arrive at my studio you will have plenty of time to settle in, have a cup of tea, a little chat and if necessary feed your baby. I have a beautiful natural light studio with a comfy sofa and refreshments available to you throughout the session.
At this stage I like to find out a little about your tastes so it can be really helpful if you've had a chance to look at some of my photos so that you have an idea of the colours and props that you like the most. Don't worry if you haven't had time, I am completely flexible with all my set-ups so feel free to stop me from using a colour that you'd rather I didn't - I wont be offended!
If your baby is asleep I will most likely start with photos of them on either my 'beanbag' or in a prop. Please don't be alarmed if I just 'take over' at this point. The smell of mum or the sound of your voice can sometimes be enough to wake an otherwise sleepy babe. The studio will be really nice and warm so that your baby will stay happily asleep when I remove their clothes. If they are still a bit fidgety I may decide to swaddle them for the first few photos. To them this feels like being cuddled so it is a great way to get them into a nice deep sleep. Once they are in a deeper sleep I will be able to remove the swaddling so that I can capture those beautiful tiny hands and feet.
If at any point your baby is awake but content I will always take the opportunity to get a few awake photos and perhaps some family shots. If they are unsettled then please do not panic. I have two children of my own and having photographed over one hundred newborns I am fairly practised at soothing them. Many of my past clients have asked if they can hire me by the hour in the middle of the night and I've been called a baby whisperer on more than one occasion!! I have quite a few tricks up my sleeve...so bring your notebook (only joking!!) (EDIT - I wrote another blog full of all my top tips! - Am I really a baby whisperer?)
Many people worry that trying to get photos of a potentially awake or screaming baby will be really stressful and this is enough to put them off having photos taken. I don't think this has ever been the case and the overall resounding comments I receive are that it has been a relaxing and enjoyable experience. So sit back, put your feet up and watch me create some beautiful memories for you and your growing family...
If you would like to contact Kate to make a booking please fill in the form here.
The Great Outdoors
...a Training Day with Nina Mace
In a Rut.
Last year it dawned on me that since studying for my Foundation Diploma in Photography 14 years ago I had not done any formal photography training. Since deciding to make a career of photography back in 2011 I have been continuously learning but mainly through personal practice and the odd YouTube video. I was in a bit of a creative rut and wanted to learn something new! Up to this point all of my family sessions had been using my pop up studio in clients' living rooms but as my own children grew I realised the benefit to being able to take the photo shoot outside to let them run free and have some real fun.
I've had a camera in my hand as long as I can remember and a love of landscape & travel photography is where it all began. So taking photos of kids outside should be easy right? ....wrong! Whenever I attempted to photograph my boys outside I felt something was missing. Where was the 'wow' factor? I was happy with the studio work that I was producing of younger children and babies but I knew that if I was going to be able to continue to take photos that I loved of our two energetic boys, who had long since tired of posing for me in the studio, I had to learn some new skills. We had to get outside!
When I heard that Nina Mace, winner of Children's Photographer of the Year, was coming to Bristol, I leapt at the chance to do training with her. After booking the course I discovered that none of my lenses were suitable and that this was the perfect excuse to treat myself to a new lens, I was so excited - I'm a bit of a techy geek! The Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 arrived a few days later and I took the boys to the park straight after school to try out this 1.5kg beast of a lens. To say I was disappointed with the results is a bit of an understatement. Nina's training could not come soon enough.
The Big Day!
So on a gorgeous sunny afternoon back in July 2016, myself and a group of about 8 other photographers went along to Nina's training at Ashton Court in Bristol. After covering some invaluable technical theory in the classroom we took our cameras outside to put what we had learnt into practice. I was instantly getting better results than I did in the park with my boys - what a relief!
Training day with NinaTaken when the sun was low in the sky, an hour or so before golden hour.
Despite what you may think, bright sunny days are the hardest of all. Harsh shadows, blown out skies and squinting children don't make for the best photos! Often referred to as The Golden Hour, the most beautiful light is the hour before sunset. With the sun low in the sky the light is soft and warm, but in summer months this is usually around 9pm - not the ideal time for a photo shoot with young children! Nina showed us how to find the best light even when waiting for Golden Hour is not an option.
Training day with NinaTaken in the shade when the sun was still high in the sky
After experimenting with different lighting situations and locations we headed back into the classroom where Nina demonstrated some of her editing techniques. Having trained on a film camera, without the luxury of Photoshop, I always strive to get the shot as perfect as possible in camera. Having resisted using Photoshop for the first few years of business, believing to some extent that it was cheating, I have now come to realize that it is an incredibly powerful tool. When used correctly to enhance what is already a good image, you really can achieve that wow factor I had been searching for.
Since my training with Nina I have done several outdoor family sessions and look forward to doing many more. I love my studio work but I am so happy to be able to offer my clients the option of an outdoor session. And for me, most importantly, I have photos of my children that I love.
If you would like to see more of Nina's beautiful work please visit her website.
My boysLeigh Woods in Autumn 2016. My BoysLeigh Woods, Autumn 2016 My BoysLeigh Woods, Autumn 2016
Rainy DayWho needs sunshine when you've got puddles! PeekabooFun and games at Ashton Court